“Two young people fell in love and we all showed up.”
That was Bishop Michael Curry addressing the newly-minted Duke and Duchess of Sussex on their wedding day. Leading up to the royal wedding, I wanted desperately to just show up and watch two young people in love. I wanted to be able to dissect the dress, the flowers, the body language between newlyweds and squeal over the first kiss, without having to think too much about the monarchy, colonisation and my complicated feelings about the public reaction to Meghan’s race since it was announced that she was set to officially become royalty. That was before I knew how black this wedding would be.
There had been so much written about Meghan’s biracial background and while I knew it mattered, I was exhausted. It seemed like every black woman writer had been asked to write their take on Meghan’s race but no one was writing think-pieces about how Meghan was giving white divorced women in their mid-thirties “hope.” No one was writing about how Harry is now a “workplace inspiration” for gingers everywhere. The truth is for some black women, this wedding means nothing at all. For others, it means a lot. For me, it’s complicated.
I am unequivocally obsessed with everything about this wedding and watching it brought me SO. MUCH. JOY. I am still in awe of every detail but I also know that it’s a fantasy that doesn’t fix reality. Being obsessed with this wedding makes me feel equal parts giddy and guilty. A few months ago, I was commissioned by a magazine to tackle the impact a “black Princess” would have – or not – on the world. I delved into some of my personal experiences growing up in a world where black girls were not the stars of fairy tales or objects of affection in pop culture while also making sure to note that this wedding would not mean that the monarchy should be absolved of their history of brutal racist f-ckery. I also pointed out the privilege that comes with being a black woman that looks like Meghan Markle.
One of my favourite Canadian writers, Vicky Mochama, wrote an excellent piece for The Walrus that articulates so much of the complexity that comes with being a black woman who cares about this wedding and the reasons why it, no matter how magical, won’t save us.
The entry of one privileged Black woman who can pass for white does not even begin to undo the damage done to hundreds of Black people who did nothing but work hard and contribute to their country. It is hopeful to imagine Meghan working from within and dismantling the royal family’s and the nation’s sense of self. But one Black gospel choir (a very good one!) at a wedding cannot do what does not want to be done.
Like a black American president didn’t solve racism, neither will a black British princess (I know she’s a Duchess, don’t @ me) but that’s OK. It doesn’t mean that this wedding didn’t mean something. It doesn’t mean that reveling in the happiness of Doria Ragland, a beaming black mother, and her glowing daughter on her wedding day is wrong. Meghan’s blackness has been up for debate and it shouldn’t be. She identifies as biracial, as is her right, but the world sees her as black. Even though her skin is light and her hair is straight, she’s still had to deal with bigotry from the press and even from members of her new family. There were questions leading up to the wedding about whether Meghan was trying to disassociate herself from her blackness. Again, that was before everyone knew how black this wedding would be.
Yes, it was a celebration of love but it was also a blatant showcase of black excellence. It was Meghan Markle showing the world watching (all the people who have questioned her identity) and the world she was marrying into (one that has typically excluded black people) that her blackness not only exists but that she’s DAMN PROUD of it. Honestly, I am still in awe. From the guest list (OPRAH, IDRIS, SERENA) to the Kingdom Choir, led by Karen Gibson, singing “Stand By Me”, which literally had me weeping into my colleague and honourary auntie Marci Ien’s shoulder, to 19-year-old cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, to Bishop Curry’s sermon, this wedding was unlike any British royal wedding we’ve ever seen.
THE SERMON. I was not prepared. According to The New York Times, Bishop Curry is the “presiding bishop of the American Episcopal Church and its first African-American leader.” He took all those stuffy British royals TO CHURCH. He cited slavery and the negro spiritual “There Is A Balm in Gilead” to drive home a point about looking to love even in the darkest times. He quoted Martin Luther King Jr. about the power of love to “lift up and liberate when nothing else will.” A radical black civil rights leader and slavery were brought up at an event established by an institution of people who were instrumental in the slave trade and built their power and fortune on the backs of black bodies. DAMN. I was not prepared.
While many members of the royal family were looking at Bishop Curry in bewilderment, anyone who has ever been to a black church (especially a black American church) knows that this kind of passion and sincerity is standard. It is WORSHIP. It is to be expected and respected. The reactions to Bishop Curry’s sermon in that church were not respectful. The mouths agape and the stifled laughter were proof that this is the closest any of these people (I refuse to acknowledge the offenders by name) have come to a black church. Their reactions made me uncomfortable but they were a perfect indicator of how disconnected from black culture this monarchy has been and still is.
To the pearl-clutchy asshats who are calling Bishop Curry’s sermon inappropriate or too long, go f-ck yourselves. I’m sorry I don’t have anything more eloquent to say. The man spoke on the healing power of love and they’re going to sh-t on that? I have nothing but curse words for those people. Plus, keeping a black pastor to 14 minutes is a FEAT. There was never any doubt in my mind that Meghan and Harry (who has come a long way since this) knew exactly how long Bishop Curry’s sermon would be and they were fine with it. They hand-picked everything in that ceremony. They deliberately chose to follow Bishop Curry’s powerful words with “Stand By Me,” sung by an all-black choir and enter the world, hand-in-hand as husband and wife, to the same choir singing “This Little Light of Mine.” Both of those songs have powerful connections to the civil rights movement.
I won’t go far as to say that the royal wedding was a political statement – the monarchy doesn’t make those, remember? I won’t say it was revolutionary – there were still so many ways in which this wedding upheld the systems that still disenfranchise black people but the overt inclusion of black culture was a statement. It was a purposeful declaration that I hope delivers on its unspoken promise of change: with Meghan in the fold, this will no longer be your mother’s monarchy.
Sure, you can write this off as just a silly royal wedding but there is something to be said about progress and disruption of the status quo. Yesterday, I had a long FaceTime conversation with my mom, who is biracial and has a similar skin tone to Meghan Markle’s, about what this wedding means to her. She moved to London from Jamaica for nursing school in the ‘70s. The blackness of this wedding was beyond her wildest dreams. My mom said that she would love to live in a world that focuses on the “redemptive power of love,” or the “new world” that Bishop Curry spoke to. In that perfect world, this wedding wouldn’t have to be about race. We could just be talking about the two young people who fell in love.
As black women in this world, we don’t have that luxury. We can dissect the dress, the flowers, the body language between newlyweds and squeal over the first kiss but when it comes to the monarchy, it’s always going to be complicated. For now, I’m going to check all my conflicted feelings and go back to reliving the joy of this black ass wedding for the third day straight.
Karen Gibson and @TheKingdomChoir sing "Stand by me" from the West End of the Chapel #RoyalWedding pic.twitter.com/4V1avJlY3K— Kensington Palace (@KensingtonRoyal) May 19, 2018
“It was such an awesome moment – just really incredible to perform for Prince Harry and Meghan at their wedding! The atmosphere was amazing and I’m proud to have played a small part in the celebrations. It’s a day I will remember for the rest of my life” pic.twitter.com/kKaMrs7cTS— Sheku Kanneh-Mason (@ShekuKM) May 20, 2018